BioNTech is moving forward with plans to build vaccine manufacturing facilities on the African continent, with an announcement Tuesday that Rwanda has been chosen for the first site.
Dr. Daniel Ngamije, the health minister for Rwanda, said the first facility will be built at the Kigali Special Economic Zone (KSEZ), next to the Kigali Innovation City. It is expected to begin producing mRNA vaccines by mid-2022.
Both Rwanda and Senegal signed MOUs with BioNTech and the European Investment Bank following talks that date back to summer. Ngamije said the deal, sealed on the sidelines of the Second Ministerial Meeting of the African Union and the European Union in Kigali, will help to advance much-needed vaccine equity on the continent.
That’s especially true of the mRNA vaccines needed to fight COVID-19, an issue of international concern over African access to the lifesaving vaccines and the technology to make them.
“Our goal is to develop vaccines in the African Union and to establish sustainable vaccine production capabilities to jointly improve medical care in Africa,” said BioNTech CEO Dr. Ugur Sahin.
The new manufacturing facility is considered the first node in an African manufacturing network expected to deliver 50 million mRNA vaccine doses annually once the first line in Rwanda is complete. The Kigali facility will then expand production lines, with Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal agreeing to support rapid capacity expansion.
BioNTech also is in talks with Cape Town-based vaccine manufacturer Biovac, a partner in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing network, to expand capacity there.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, said new, state-of-the-art facilities will be a game-changer for Africa. “This is also crucial for transferring knowledge and know-how, bringing in new jobs and skills and ultimately strengthening Africa’s health security,” she said.